RVing vs. Overlanding: What’s the Difference?

by | May 7, 2024 | Guest Posts

Meet Our Guest Contributor: Wes Littlefield 

Wes Littlefield’s first camping trip took place before he could walk, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s slept under the stars, in tents, RVs, and in the back of his Toyota 4Runner. He also loves playing disc golf, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and hunting whenever he has time. Wes is the lead writer at Ammo.com, Anglers.com, and owns OKDiscGolfer.com

Growing up, we went camping multiple times a year. My parents started us out in a tent, then we graduated to an RV, and I now enjoy overlanding. This privilege has given me a unique perspective and knowledge of the different ways to camp – specifically RVing vs. overlanding.

On the surface, these two activities appear similar. But understanding the drastic differences between the two will save you a tremendous amount of frustration and lead to a much more enjoyable adventure.

What is RVing?

RVing is camping or living in an RV: a motorhome or towable camper. RVing is typically done at campgrounds with asphalt or concrete pads, water, and electric hookups.

Depending on the campgrounds where you’re staying, the amenities will vary. Some have nice bathrooms and showers, while others only have a hole in the ground. Most have some sort of playground for kids, but I’ve also stayed at a few that did not. I prefer to stay at a campground with fishing and kayaking opportunities nearby, but that’s my preference.

My family spent most of their time RVing growing up. My parents had a group of friends with kids similar in age to my brother and me who would all plan a week-long stay at the same campground.

As a kid, it was a lot of fun to hang out with friends and explore the local area for a week while our parents relaxed or went fishing.

Looking back on these adventures, I realized that RVing is slightly more relaxed and less adventurous than overlanding, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun!

 

What is Overlanding?

When it comes to RVing vs. overlanding, overlanding focuses more on the journey. It’s a self-reliant adventure across remote lands (over land, not maintained roads).

The critical difference is this self-reliance. Overland camping doesn’t take place in campgrounds with water and electricity. It’s much closer to roughing it; however, many overlanders pack as many home comforts as possible.

I enjoy SUV camping in my Toyota 4Runner. The 4Runner, and other off-road optimized SUVs, are one of the most popular overlanding options. Trucks, vans, and motorcycles are also common overlanding vehicles. Sleeping is done inside the vehicle or in a detached tent. There are also tent attachments for your car and, of course, truck campers.

Since you’re in a remote location, you must bring all the supplies you’ll need for the trip. That includes cookware, bathroom essentials, sleeping gear, and vehicle repair parts and tools.

RVing vs. Overlanding: Which is Right for You?

Now it’s time to help you determine which type of camping best suits your expectations.

Overlanding tends to be the best option for adventure seekers, whereas RVing is the better choice for those who want to relax on their trip.

 Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each type of camping to help you decide which one you’ll enjoy more.

RVing Benefits & Drawbacks

RVing has many benefits, which is why most people choose to go RVing, but it also has a few drawbacks that might make it the wrong activity for you.

RVing Pros

  • Closer to civilization
  • More amenities
  • Sit and relax more
  • More room to pack gear

My wife and daughter don’t enjoy getting too far away from civilization. They like the comfort of knowing a bathroom, shower, and hospital are nearby. This is why they both prefer RVing to overlanding. They can stay at a campground where all these things and more are close by.

My parents prefer RVing because it’s much more relaxing. You set up camp for the week or weekend and spend the rest of the time relaxing by the fire, reading a book in the hammock, or taking a hike along the trails, among other relaxing activities. RVs also have more room, which means you can bring better food and more supplies without worrying as much about space.

RVing Cons

  • Seeing fewer sights
  • Dealing with other campers
  • Campgrounds can be booked many months in advance

Parking your RV at a campground means you don’t see the rare views that overlanders get to see on each trip. However, there are still many amazing sights to see on hikes and at campgrounds.

My biggest complaint about RVing is dealing with other campers. It’s not so much the people themselves but those who don’t follow campground etiquette. Some campers bring along their dog that barks all night and day. My wife enjoys bringing our dogs on trips, but I ensure they stay quiet and don’t keep other campers awake at night. Occasionally, you’ll run into rude and unfriendly campers, but most campers are good people.

My daughter and I were planning to stay at a campground a few weekends ago when we visited Jonesboro, Arkansas, for a disc golf tournament. I didn’t think it would be busy, so I didn’t make a reservation, which was a mistake (disc golfers love camping, apparently!). When we pulled in late at night, every single spot was taken. Not all campgrounds accept reservations, but for those that do, be sure to reserve a place before you leave the house!

The overland setup in Wes Littlefield's Toyota 4Runner.

Overlanding Benefits & Drawbacks

Overlanding also has some benefits and drawbacks we should discuss.

Overlanding Pros

  • Seeing sights few people ever see
  • More adventure

Overlanding aims to see unique places that few people ever see because they’re unwilling to put in the effort it takes to get there. You’ll take many back roads and rough trails, but the views are well worth it.

My dad and I are much more adventurous than my wife, daughter, and mother, so we often go overlanding while the girls stay home. Trail driving and experiencing the untamed wilderness make for a much more adventurous time than RVing.

Overlanding Cons

  • Most overlanding takes place in the western half of the U.S.
  • Requires more planning, coordination, and effort

There are many more campgrounds in the U.S. than there are overlanding spots. In fact, most overlanding takes place in the Western U.S. because it’s where the most public land allows the activity.

If you’re not a planner like me, you might find your first few overlanding trips frustrating because you forgot something essential or were utterly unprepared for an aspect of the journey. I don’t mind putting in the effort during an overlanding trip, but it’s not nearly as relaxing as parking an RV at a campground!

Until the Next Adventure

When it comes to RVing vs. overlanding, RVing is generally closer to glamping, and overlanding requires roughing it (though many people have cushy overlanding rigs). When you understand the difference between the two, you’ll have a much easier time deciding which camping style is right for you and your family.

May safe travels and fun adventures lie ahead!

An overland truck camps at night. These vehicles are part of RVUSA's new overland classifieds category

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